Variable Star Observing
There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking out the telescope just to look at the stars, no purpose in mind other than enjoyment of the night sky. However, I'm not wired that way. I'm a goal-oriented person who enjoys having objectives to complete. The American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) has given me the direction I needed to make my stargazing not only more enjoyable by providing targets to view, but allows me to record and submit data based on my observations that will actually help scientists as they study variable stars and search for new planets.
Variable stars are stars whose brightness changes over time for any number of reasons. One reason a star's brightness may vary would be due to an object passing between the star and us. Those objects could include planets, comets, meteors, or other space debris. Studying variable stars helps astronomers locate potential exoplanets. Planets themselves don't give off light, just like Earth and other planets in our solar system doesn't give off their own light. Inside our solar system, the planets and other objects are close enough that we can observe the light from our own star reflected back at us. Farther out, the light reflecting off of other objects is almost impossible to detect, so we locate other objects by observing them pass in front of stars and measuring the amount of light displaced in order to estimate measurements such as the object's size and probable distance from the star.
The American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) spearheads citizen projects to observe variable stars and record data for scientists to review and evaluate. They also provide a LOT of information on how an amateur astronomer can participate. A good place to start is the AAVSO's 10-Star Tutorial for the Northern Hemisphere (or 11-Star Tutorial for the Southern Hemisphere).
Between the provided guides and the tutorials AAVSO offers, I'm coming up with an observing plan that will allow me to observe at regular intervals and gather meaningful data that can be analyzed.
My blog will mostly feature data from the various projects assigned by AAVSO; this is a good way for me to remember and share the things I see in the night sky.
If you're interested in participating, please check out the AAVSO and NASA Exoplanet Watch websites.